Boulder-Based Poet Michele Battiste Shares Her Faves

Michele Battiste is the author of Waiting for the Wreck to Burn (Trio House, 2019), Uprising ( Black Lawrence, 2014), and Ink for an Odd Cartography ( Black Lawrence, 2009). She is also the author of several chapbooks, including Left: Letters to Strangers (Grey Book, 2014). Her poems have appeared in American Poetry ReviewBeloit Poetry JournalThe RumpusMemorious, and Women’s Studies Quarterly, among others.

Battiste has generously shared three of her favorite poems with Parley:

Setting Fire to the Tall, Dry Grass

The surface area is larger
than you think, even if you
think really hard. Sheath
and blade, fine serrations,
seed head the same
beginning whether
called inflorescence
or spike. The spikelet,
its awn, rachilla, and glume.
Even the stolon. Even
the apex and leaf

It’s not the part they play
but the space they’d take
up if compression
were not nature’s casual
talent. Think about a meadow
of tall grasses. Now think
about that meadow in exceptional
drought. How little we know
about fuel when it’s not
in service to us. How we can’t
resist crushing what is
brittle. How the pause
then the flare elicits
a response. We believe
a semi-arid landscape
can’t sustain us but it
can. There is surface
enough. And seed. Remember
the spikelet. Remember
the awn and the glume.

And if the grass burns
hotter and longer than you
ever thought it could, know
that nothing was extinguished.
Not my vulgar, shallow
breathing, not your mouth-
sized fire that flashes
beautifully. Like a jar overfilled
with fireflies, the lid
shut tight.
Prescribed Burn

Left to itself, a forest will burn
like a phoenix burns. Inside
the ash: pine needles and migration
paths. Cellulose and vein. The earth

and memory is sufficient.
What some call rebirth a mother
would call endurance. What some
call holy a mother would call
daily. A mother calls out
a name and the name rises
like fire, drifts like down.

A forest managed by man can burn
catastrophically. Each small fire
suppressed until overgrowth

rivulet and meadow, forage
for elk, deer, small creeping
unseen creatures. Duff thick
as a feather bed. When lightning,
when cooking stove, when
one chance snap of a campfire
twig—a flame is asked

to feast
on crowns and scorch soil
so the dead can’t settle
back into the earth and the earth
can’t remember.

Let me be clear
about motives. Trying to stop
fire is trying to stop death. Some call
the phoenix a myth, but a mother
would call the phoenix

The forest is sufficient to bring
back the dead: ash of feather, ash
of needle, ash of limb, ash of leaf,
ash of left.

Take the green dress for
instance. Take the beaded
neckline, the attempt
at misdirection, a memento
of the time that hawk
like a blur snatched a koi from the rock
pond and everyone at the party
looked someplace else. Refused
to notice how easily disaster
could come for them. It was
generally agreed the party
was a success. Take

the barricaded door, behind
it fine porcelain, fine marzipan
no one is prohibited
from eating but fear takes
peculiar forms.

Take the mattress,
the bathtub, the structural
security of a doorframe. Disaster
has not come to some
people yet it is an ugly urge to wish
it. The requests for support have grown
unmanageable. All that is left
is failing. Take what is left and I am
so beautiful in that green dress.

Photo by Valentin Salja on Unsplash